Access Control Smackdown

Everyone is riding the IP video wave in security right now and central stations, commercial buildings and even private residences are no stranger to that. And when it comes to access control, many have taken the secure approach with video verification. But the move to video and audio verification as a unified solution is the next step in not only reducing false alarms and deterring crime, but in providing a complete value-added service.

"The primary value of audio and video verification is improved response by law enforcement plus higher apprehension rates," said Felix Gonzales, vice president, Strategic Initiatives and Business Development, Stanley Convergent Security Solutions, Naperville, Ill. "That adds up to a better deterrent to crime. Now, police are not responding to an alarm but to a crime in progress. When it comes to prioritizing police response, verification assures them there is a crime in progress."

Marshall Marinace, owner of Marshall Alarm Systems Inc., Yorktown, N.Y. and vice president of the Electronic Security Association (ESA), Irving, Texas, agreed that one of the many problems law enforcement agencies face is responding to excessive nuisance alarms.

"The police want to verify that something is happening," Marinace continued. "With audio and video verification, a central station operator can look at a remote site and see if dispatch is required."

Perhaps an even more obvious testament to audio and video verification is the growing number of vendors that offer such access control solutions or continue to roll them out.

STENTOFON security communication systems now can be linked with a wide range of Pelco video security camera solutions, including the Pelco Endura Video Surveillance System. This integration provides an interactive system that allows security personnel to both see and hear what's taking place in any situation.

"What STENTOFON does is provide the 'voice of security,'" explained Dan Rothrock, senior vice president, STENTOFON, Kansas City, Mo. "We have taken the power of the Pelco Endura system and linked it to STENTOFON." It provides its power bi-directionally into Endura.

Phil Atteberry, director of Managed Security Services, Siemens Industry Inc., Buffalo Grove, Ill., estimated that 25 to 50 percent of their customers use audio and video verification.

"We are seeing more interest since the growth of IP-especially in the audio sector," Atteberry said. He sees growth for the service both in central stations and command centers.

The audio portion of audio and video verification may be more difficult to circumvent in security applications. While the bad guys can videotape a keypad, even one where the number keys do not follow the standard configuration, it is far more difficult to duplicate a voice-recorded phrase. With high-quality audio verification, unstaffed entrances can still be secure.

The pluses add up

In addition to municipal responders, audio and video verification saves time and money for private security firms as well.

"We are seeing a lot of folks who want the audio out of the building, whether it is taken to a central station or to a command center where a guard can monitor several buildings," said Andy Stadheim, president, Barix Technology, Oakdale, Minn.

In addition, the video offers a value-add service beyond alarm verification. Many clients find they can build additional operational efficiencies into the system.

"We see verification as an upgrade or enhancement to what already is in place," explained Gonzales. "Alarm verification is based on the sheer value of what the customer is trying to protect. This can range from protecting air conditioning units on rooftops to copper cable on towers." Stanley CSS provides both audio and video verification with its Sonitrol audio impact and wireless eVideo Alarm Verification, using Videofied(r) technology from RSI Video Technologies, White Bear Lake, Minn. Gonzales encourages users to integrate as many of their services into one platform, including fire panels, door alarms, intrusion detection and access control.

The 'legalities' of it all

While audio is a valuable component of audio and video verification, it has limits imposed by the law. For one, it cannot be recorded unless everyone is aware that the audio is being recorded, Stadheim stated.

Bank ATMs, for example, have video but not recorded audio. Different states may have different requirements.

That does not reduce the effectiveness of audio. Many banks and prisons use audio monitoring with the highs and lows clipped out-the resulting audio gives the tenor of the conversation but the actual sound is not readily identifiable. Audio analysis allows the system to determine peaks and valleys in the sound. A sudden increase in sound intensity might alert the system to a problem.

Likewise, impact noises can be recorded. These are short, sudden sounds like a car crash or a gunshot. An impact spike in the audio, followed two minutes later by a 9-1-1 call would serve as validation of the call.

However, in situations like door stations, there is a reasonable assumption that someone is listening and is responding. There, audio is fair game for recording to a server.

Gonzales noted that there are legal aspects-legislation and ordinances-that cover all sorts of security from fire codes to access and egress. Video and audio are required to meet and comply with regulations or code in many jurisdictions. Like other vendors, Gonzales said their video is not recording all day. However, when an alarm is triggered the central station can look for a video clip to ascertain what is going on. "The system is designed to be activated when nobody is in the building," he explained.

The bottom line, Atteberry added, is to have a solid legal team behind you to be sure you and the client are protected.

Before you install

An IP-based camera and audio system are the easiest to use. Some cameras have audio integrated within. However, if quality audio is a key part of the system, i.e. for voice verification of identity, then an upgraded audio backbone will be required for more accurate sound.

According to Atteberry, IP has opened the doors to taking video beyond the rudimentary. "With IP, there is no need to retrofit for audio and video verification." He added that their platform integrates with most systems on the market. Simply link the DVR to the Internet and it's ready to go.

Audio can be trickier. For either video or audio, Stadheim said the first thing integrators should do is to meet with the network providers to make sure there are enough IP addresses and MAC addresses for an exclusive installation and enough bandwidth exists for all of the required subnets. "Engage early with the folks putting in the network and figure your total bandwidth needs," he explained.

While he says they have not been called upon to do a lot of audio and video verification systems, Marinace said the typical method is to integrate the verification with the video server at the site through a DVR at the central station. The operator can than log in and view a potential alarm scene.

"There is no need to retrofit the existing system," he said. Rather, an integrator can add the appropriate devices to the system.

Video and audio verification requires practical installation before it catches up to the high adoption rate of IP video, yet the continued development and maturity will pave the way for growth.

Curt Harler is a regular contributor to SD&I magazine and a freelance writer specializing in security and the construction industry. Reach him at